16 October 2009

W.Va. House members Press EPA on Mountaintop Removal Mining

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Vice Chairman Nick Rahall, D-3rd, and member Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, used a Thursday hearing on the Clean Water Act to quiz a top Obama administration official "about her agency’s position on mountaintop removal coal mining," Public Broadcasting and others report.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said the "neither EPA nor I personally have any desire to end coal mining, have any hidden agenda or any agenda whatsoever that has to do with coal mining as an industry," the report said. "I believe that coal can be mined safely and cleanly."

The appearance follows what Rahall and Capito call frustration and concern about federal scrutiny of the mining method, as reflected at this week's public hearings in Charleston and Kentucky.

"Jackson said the 79 permits currently under review have been held up for years by litigation and had never been reviewed by the EPA," Public Broadcasting reports. "She said there are some scientific concerns about the large amounts of valley fills that have been allowed since a new stream buffer rule was developed in 2008 under the Bush administration."

Public Broadcasting offers audio, while the committee links to video and hearing details.

The Charleston Gazette has an article, as does The Register-Herald. The Beckley newspaper focuses on Rahall's remarks and also includes comments from state legislators on the topic.

The Charleston Daily Mail includes hearing details while reporting that "U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials are close to making a decision on six of the 23 West Virginia permits" under review.

MetroNews has an item on the hearing, with audio.

The West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training reports that as of early August, about 37% of the coal produced in the state in 2009 came from surface mining, of which the mountaintop removal method is a part. The share from all surface mining has averaged 38% so far this decade, and 36% since 1996, the earlier year for agency figures.

November Special Session Still Possible

The Associated Press reports that "West Virginia's Legislature could tackle pension debts, the gas tax and retiree benefit costs at a special session next month."

But that's only if enough lawmakers express support in advance for the measure "to help Huntington and other municipalities close funding gaps in police and fire pension programs," Manchin administration officials say.

But if the governor does call one, lawmakers tell AP they "expect to tweak a portion of the state gas tax that's based on wholesale prices. Other likely agenda items include $2.5 million for a Medicaid waiver program and a change to the way the state accounts for non-pension retiree benefits."

They Voted for You: Guantanamo Bay

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped pass a plan that The Associated Press described as allowing suspected enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay to be shipped to U.S. soil, in cases in which they are to be prosecuted for their suspected crimes.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted to block the provision, as did all but one of the House GOP members present. They were rebuffed 193-224.

Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, did not vote on that measure, or on passage of the underlying $42.8 billion Homeland Security appropriations legislation. Both Rahall and Capito voted for the bill in a 307-114 roll call.

"Permitting Guantanamo prisoners to be transferred to U.S. soil to stand trial had been a bipartisan compromise earlier," AP reports. "It mostly tracks current restrictions put in place in June and is similar to a version backed by Republicans earlier in the year."

But "without a plan from the administration for closing the facility," some GOP critics reverted to "calling the administration's plan misguided and potentially dangerous," the article also said.

14 October 2009

Weighing in on Health Care

Far more subdued than Tuesday's hearings on mountaintop removal mining was the Culture Center forum on health care. As The Associated Press reports, players including the state chamber of commerce, West Virginia's largest private insurer and a statewide network of community health centers were among those taking part.

During the nearly two-hour discussion, "the need for a public option in the developing federal legislation appeared to be the biggest disagreement," AP reports. "Panelists appeared more solidly behind expanding the existing Medicaid program."

And as AP explains, the conversation was partly framed by Tuesday's emergence of a health care bill from the Senate Finance Committee.

"The measure meets most of the requirements set out by President Barack Obama," the article said. "He had promised voters during his campaign to overhaul the system by extending insurance coverage to virtually all Americans, lowering medical costs and ending insurance industry practices of refusing protection to people with so-called pre-existing conditions or dropping coverage to those who become seriously ill."

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., voted for the bill in committee.

The Charleston Gazette also has an item on the forum.

Miners Get Loud about Mountaintop Removal

At simultaneous public hearings held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in West Virginia and Kentucky, environmentalists found themselves shouted down by "thousands of coal miners fearing the loss of jobs if mountaintop removal mining is curtailed or outlawed," The Associated Press reports.

The hearings allowed public comment on the corps' "proposal to eliminate or at least suspend a streamlined permitting process for surface mines in six Appalachian states," AP's Tim Huber explains. "Hearings were also being held in Tennessee and are set for later this week in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia."

Others with coverage include The Charleston Gazette (with photos), MetroNews (with audio and a sidebar), Public Broadcasting (with audio), and the Charleston Daily Mail.